Woman Subscribing to Online Services

Are you falling victim to subscription creep?

How your personal finances are being silently squeezed

Written by Professor Gary Martin FAIM
4 minute read
Woman Subscribing to Online Services

Do you need a regular supply of fresh underwear, ready-to-go meals for your pet pooch, a monthly stock of high-quality toilet paper or an ongoing stash of fragrant candles? There is a subscription for that.

Once the exclusive domain of gym memberships, video streaming services, internet service providers and phone companies, there is a subscription available for just about anything these days.

As many of us fail to resist the temptation to subscribe to an increasingly diverse range of products and services, concerns are rising for many of us that our personal finances are being silently squeezed.

In the highly unlikely event you do not have one, two or even 10 of them, a subscription usually involves ongoing access to goods or services for a set period of time with payment made supposedly more affordable through recurring weekly, fortnightly, monthly or quarterly charges that are linked to a credit or debit card.

A healthy appetite for the purchase of subscriptions existed long before the pandemic though COVID-19 made the consumer hunger almost insatiable.

We fell in love with the ease and reliability of getting our favourite products delivered safely to our front door and were spoilt for choice with video streaming services to entertain us while we were forced to stay home.

As we slowly emerge from the pandemic, we continue to sign up for anything from collectables, to alcohol, to wellness boxes.

Subscription charges are swarming all over our bank statements adding up to hundreds and, in some cases, thousands of dollars each month.

With seemingly affordable monthly instalments and consumers receiving the things they need or want with little if any effort, it is hardly surprising that we have seen the emergence of the “super-subscriber” – those with multiple subscriptions to cover all sorts of goods and services.

While there might appear to be upside to achieving super-subscriber status, there is a potentially costly downside.

One problem is that super-subscribers fail to track exactly how much they are spending across multiple subscriptions. Subscription creep takes hold as they lose financial control of the snowballing effect of signing up to one too many services.

On a monthly basis, if you spend $50 on a mobile phone plan, $20 on a video streaming service, $90 on a home internet service and $30 on a beauty box, you will amass a “locked-in” annual subscription spend of a whopping $2280.

On top of subscription creep, some super-subscribers vastly overestimate how often they will use purchased products and services. They end up paying for subscriptions they rarely use – or worse still, do not use at all.

If that is not bad enough, many waste money when they have so many digital subscriptions on the go at any one time because they forget what they have signed up for in the first place.

Subscriptions to video streaming services, e-book collections and podcasts regularly remain dormant for month on month, year on year.

To make matters worse, many find cancelling a subscription too hard, so do not bother trying.

Others succeed at cancelling services but fail to detect those charges are ongoing while some continue a service without realising the cost has increased.

The bottom line is that more and more super-subscribers end up paying outrageous amounts of money for subscription services they do not need, want or even know they have.

While many of us never intended to be a super-subscriber, we inadvertently end up becoming one through signing up for free trials and then failing to cancel services once the freebie ends.

Regardless of whether you are a deliberate or accidental super-subscriber, you are one of the many Australians thought to be contributing to the estimated $4 billion wasted annually on unused subscription services.

If you would like to manage your subscriptions more effectively, there is no shortage of advice available.

The best starting point is to have a good look at your bank statement and conduct an audit of all the subscription charges incurred to gain a better understanding of the total amount being spent.

Using a separate credit or debit card just for subscriptions to better monitor ongoing expenses is also recommended, as is making use of one of the many apps that can keep a list of subscriptions and their renewal dates.

It is not surprising that many experts strongly recommend avoiding subscriptions that automatically renew, unless you are absolutely sure you want to keep the service provided for a long time.

And when it comes to initiating free trial offers, the best advice is to make a note in your calendar or diary to cancel them before they expire.

There’s little evidence that we are starting to suffer from subscription fatigue – in fact, there are signs the subscription economy is still growing.

If you have no idea how much you are spending on subscriptions each month, it is a sure sign you are already over-subscribed.

It might be time to take back control and become part of a new breed of savvy subscribers.